HomeGenetic identities and identification: social issues surrounding non-medical DNA testing

Genetic identities and identification: social issues surrounding non-medical DNA testing

Identité et identification par l’ADN : enjeux sociaux des usages non médicaux des analyses génétiques

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Published on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 by João Fernandes

Summary

Whereas the vast majority of social science studies on genetics concern health, this conference takes a different approach focusing on non-medical uses of DNA. These have developed substantially over the past two decades in a variety of fields ranging from police/legal investigations and family reunification applications in migration to familial searching and victim identification. In a number of countries, the identification of people using DNA comparison has resulted in large databases of DNA profiles being compiled. Furthermore, new approaches are being devised aimed at establishing correlations between, on the one hand, DNA sequences and, on the other, people’s geographical origin and/or characteristic traits of physical appearance. This shows how, beyond the simple question of identifying people, their very identity seems to be influenced by these approaches at the centre of contemporary biopolitics. More generally, the various techniques aimed at identifying people also inform their social identity.

Announcement

Argument

Whereas the vast majority of social science studies on genetics concern health, this conference takes a different approach focusing on non-medical uses of DNA. These have developed substantially over the past two decades in a variety of fields ranging from police/legal investigations and family reunification applications in migration to familial searching and victim identification. In a number of countries, the identification of people using DNA comparison has resulted in large databases of DNA profiles being compiled. Furthermore, new approaches are being devised aimed at establishing correlations between, on the one hand, DNA sequences and, on the other, people’s geographical origin and/or characteristic traits of physical appearance. This shows how, beyond the simple question of identifying people, their very identity seems to be influenced by these approaches at the centre of contemporary biopolitics. More generally, the various techniques aimed at identifying people also inform their social identity.

Some of these techniques raise moral and politic debate or even controversy, while others do not or not to the same extent. In certain cases, DNA seems to provide solutions to social problems, whereas in others it seems to create new ones. Across the board, though, these practices invite a fresh approach to traditional social science questions. They contribute to reconfiguring a whole set of social boundaries or, to paraphrase Ian Hacking, social ‘knots’, i.e. tensions resulting from contradictory trends: between regimes of truth and uncertainty, between security and freedom, between identifying and categorising populations, and between national sovereignty and international exchange.

The conference will explore four sets of questions:

1) Regimes of truth and uncertainty: what place does DNA evidence hold compared to other forms of evidence or other clues, such as traditional fingerprints? Do the opinions of the different social actors involved (magistrates, investigators, geneticists, etc.) differ depending on the technique being used? What role do these innovations play in the puzzle facing professionals as they try to piece together the truth? How much faith is placed in DNA evidence? Does feedback from the past 20 years’ experience suggest DNA should be given a new role as a ‘truth machine’?

2) Security and freedom: what social definitions inform the balance between the two aims of, on the one hand, ensuring populations’ security and wellbeing, and, on the other, respecting individuals’ freedom and rights? How is the scope of DNA databases defined, in terms of limits and content? How does the public view these innovations? How are responsibilities divided between different actors (magistrates, police officers, geneticists, etc.) when it comes to adding, managing, and consulting files, collecting samples, and storing/exchanging data?

3) Identifying and categorising populations: how are issues of identification (through DNA comparison) linked to aims for categorising populations or individuals (geographic origin, etc.)? What moral questions and political debates emerge in this regard? What can these debates (or lack of debates) tell us about the way in which DNA changes the identification and categorisation of people? How do these different practices influence contemporary identity politics?

4) National sovereignty and international exchange: how does the circulation of knowledge, information, and people combine with national regulations in terms of data collection and storage? What guarantees are provided in return for the information exchanged? Which people are likely to be concerned by these international exchanges (people on a wanted list, people under specific surveillance, undocumented people, etc.)? Have more or less personal details been exchanged since DNA has been in use?

This conference aims to engage interdisciplinary dialogue around these issues between sociologists, anthropologists, legal specialists, and historians.

Calendar

Potential participants are invited to send:

  • an abstract of approx. 6000 characters outlining the research conducted on these topics (in French or English);
  • a bio-bibliographical blurb of approx. 10 lines (in French or English).

to the following address by March 1st 2018 at the latest: identification2018@ehess.fr

Decisions about proposals will be sent on April 2nd 2018, along with a preliminary programme.

Full papers are expected by September 11th 2018 in order to facilitate discussion.

Presentations should be given in English or French. Simultaneous translation will be provided.

Contact and information: vailly@ehess.fr

 

Academic convenors/ Organising committee

  • Pascal Beauvais (Professor University of Paris Nanterre, CDPC), 
  • Florence Bellivier (Professor University of Paris Nanterre, CDPC/CRNST), 
  • Elisabeth Fortis (Professor University of Paris Nanterre, CDPC), 
  • Gaëlle Krikorian (Inserm PostDoctoral Fellow, Iris),
  • Christine Noiville (CNRS Research Director, CRNST),
  • Florence Paterson (Research Assistant ARMINES, CSI),
  • Vololona Rabeharisoa (Professor PSL MINES ParisTech, CSI), 
  • Joëlle Vailly (CNRS Research Director, Iris) 

This conference is organised as part of the FiTeGe project “Genetic Databases and Witnesses:

Genealogy, Social issues, Circulation”, funded by the National Research Agency/Agence nationale de la recherche (more information available here:http://fitege.hypotheses.org/).

Subjects

Places

  • Paris, France (75)

Date(s)

  • Thursday, March 01, 2018

Keywords

  • genetic identities, DNA testing

Contact(s)

  • Estelle Girard
    courriel : girard [at] ehess [dot] fr

Information source

  • Estelle Girard
    courriel : girard [at] ehess [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Genetic identities and identification: social issues surrounding non-medical DNA testing », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, February 13, 2018, https://calenda.org/432822

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